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How to Get One
To do well at an interview, you first have to get the interview. If you're going to be applying on paper or online, this will mean having a solid, professional-looking resume (or equivalent well-written application). If you're able to apply in person, this will involve leaving a good first impression in terms of your attitude, behavior, and attire.
What to Do Beforehand
Always always always research the business you'll be applying to and whatever you can find out about the particular position they're hiring for. Be as informed as possible about what the business' mission is, how they go about accomplishing that mission, and how the job you're applying for fits into all that.
Once you're as informed as possible, jot down any questions that may have occurred to you about the business or the job. Be curious, and be interested in them! (Examples: Maybe their website says they're 'renovating' soon, and you want to know what this means for the future of the business. Maybe the job you're applying for isn't clear on what hours you'd be working, and you'd like to clear that up. Anything and everything relevant to the job/business that comes to mind can be noted as a question.)
How to Dress
Depending on the job, you may need to go full Professional Dressy (dress/heels or suit/tie), you may think you can get away with casual, or you may (and probably will) run around trying to pick something that doesn't seem too overdone but still looks nice. If the job or business clearly has certain dress requirements, obviously follow those first.
Best rule of thumb otherwise: just look at what the current employees of the business wear and try to turn the 'fancy' dial one notch higher for your interview. Even for low-level jobs a respectful business-casual outfit will usually serve best, but when in doubt, always err on the side of over-dressed rather than under-dressed, and on the side of 'conservative/formal' rather than informal and flashy.
What to Bring
Every job will be a little bit different, so what you need to have at one interview might never come up at another. That said, it's usually a good idea to bring along:
- Your phone. Put it on silent, of course, but you can use it to pre-load your driving directions and enter in the contact information of the person you'll be meeting with. (That way, you can just give them a call in case your tire blows, a car accident ahead ties up traffic, or some other unavoidable delay happens on the road).
- Resume. You may have already had to submit one during an earlier stage of the interview process, but bring along an extra copy or two anyway. The person conducting the interview may not have been the same one who read the resumes, or may have forgotten details; regardless, you can always use your resume as an on-the-spot visual guide to your work history if this becomes helpful or necessary. (Note: personal references may have had to have been written down in an earlier stage of the job application as well. Regardless, bring along an extra sheet with your reference people listed just in case.)
- Small notebook and pen. This will not come up at most interviews, but when you need one, you need one. Use it to take down any further contact names/details, or make note of difficult-to-remember information covered during the interview.
- Samples of previous work (if applicable). Depending on the job, the skills you're bringing to the table may be easily displayed using photos, text documents, or something similarly portable. If this is the case for you, make sure that you bring samples (or directions to an online site with samples) so your interviewer can see the quality of your previous work.
What to Say
This is the kicker, isn't it? But preparing yourself to speak well doesn't have to feel impossible.
Tip 1: Remember that this is, above all, just a conversation. They want to learn about you, and you want to know more about the job. This is not a secret test. This is not an inquisition or an interrogation. No one is going to jump out and murder you (probably). They are still normal human beings, and just want to learn about you and why you'd be good at this.
Tip 2: Come prepared. Remember those questions you came up with after researching the company, because you're so interested in having this job that you want to learn all about it? Well, you can prove how interested you are by bringing along those questions. Depending on how the conversation is flowing and how many of those questions are getting answered naturally, you don't have to actually pull the sheet out — but should a perfect opportunity arise, you *could* pull it out if that seems like it would help.And even sheet-less, do keep in mind that not all questions have to be them asking about you. You can (and even should!) want to learn about them as well.
Tip 3: Be friendly; your interviewer is probably feeling awkward too. This would be that basic piece of advice which involves remembering that the person conducting your interview is still human, and not a cold-hearted lizard-being out to get you. They often don't like having to go through this process either, so take all normal steps to put at ease the person you're talking to. (This may mean taking such drastic measures as looking them in the eyes, smiling, maybe paying attention to what they're saying. Y'know, all those things you would do if you were actually happy to be there and wanted to be friendly.)
Tip 4: Be honest. It may be tempting to put one or two little white lies on your resume to make yourself look better, but very seriously, don't bother to exaggerate, hide, or outright fabricate anything unless you are a master manipulator with no conscience. Reason one: It's wrong. Reason two: Your interviewer(s) is very likely to sense that you're not being 100% truthful, even if they don't actually catch you lying — and if they do catch you lying, that interview is over and no job for you.
Fun fact: you will come off as a lot more calm, confident and trustworthy if you're not sweating bullets over keeping your stories straight.
Tip 5: Know your 'strengths'. The interviewer may or may not phrase questions directly asking about this, but this is what the whole interview is about. What traits and experience do you have that would make you good at this job? Come up with what these are before the interview, and use them to convince yourself that you'd be a great fit for the job. Once you've convinced yourself, you'll have a much easier time convincing your interviewer.
Tip 6: Know your 'weaknesses'. Yes, we all know the "what are your weaknesses" thing is is a loaded question. Again, you may or may not get a question worded in those exact terms, but your (for lack of a better word) 'negative' qualities will probably come up in some form or another.
The thing is, everyone has professional qualities that make them better at some things and worse at others. For instance, are you a terrific people-person? That's great, but it may mean you don't work as well on your own as you do in a team or one-on-one with a customer. Are you highly organized? Again, great, but it may mean you don't adapt well to constant change and may prefer a more stable work environment.
One of the best ways to keep things honest and productive while answering this question is to identify weaknesses like those above, where they are genuine weaknesses but go hand-in-hand with positive traits. With or instead of that strategy, you can also identify weaknesses that are again actual weaknesses, but are things you can be (and maybe are) working on. For example, nervous about public speaking but interviewing for a job that requires you to occasionally lead a meeting? You can let them know that you've been practicing or are interested in taking classes to help you get better at it.
Tip 7: Thank them. Once everything's wound down, make sure to give your interviewer a very direct and sincere 'thank you' for taking the time to meet with you. Does this seem like it should be a no-brainer? Yes. But by the time your interview is over, you may find an overwhelming urge to burst into flames and run from the room ASAP, so a reminder never hurts.
Before you leave, just make a mental note to hit the final trifecta: eye contact, handshake, "thank you".
Additional Resources. Use the links below to find questions to practice with, along with various hints on how to handle them.